Reviews

The Outsiders ***

By: Paulanne Simmons

April 19, 2024: S.E. Hinton began writing the coming-of-age novel, The Outsiders, when she was fifteen and finished it when she was a junior in high school. Viking Press published the novel when she was eighteen. Such precociousness is admirable. And the novel has certainly become a beloved classic. 

THE SOCS (Top Row) Barton Cowperthwaite (Brill), Dan Berry (Paul), RJ Higton(Chet), Kevin William Paul (Bob), Emma Pittman (Cherry Valance), Melody Rose (Beverly); (Front Row) Sean Harrison Jones (Tripp). Credit Mathew Murphy (2024)

By: Paulanne Simmons

April 19, 2024: S.E. Hinton began writing the coming-of-age novel, The Outsiders, when she was fifteen and finished it when she was a junior in high school. Viking Press published the novel when she was eighteen. Such precociousness is admirable. And the novel has certainly become a beloved classic. 

Nevertheless, The Outsiders is a young adult novel meant for the sensibilities of a teenager. Turning it into adult theater thus presents considerable challenges. Perhaps that’s why Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film received such poor reviews. The new musical, with a score by Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance of the folk duo Jamestown Revival, working with Justin Levine; a book by Adam Rapp (also working with Levine); and direction by Danya Taymor, makes a truly valiant and often successful attempt, but in the end is thwarted by the original material.

THE GREASERS (Top Row) Jason Schmidt (Sodapop Curtis), Renni Anthony Magee (Steve), Daryl Tofa (Two-Bit), Tilly Evans-Krueger (Ace),Sky Lakota-Lynch (Johnny Cade), Joshua Boone (Dallas Winston), Brent Comer (Darrel Curtis); (Front Row) Brody Grant (Ponyboy Curtis). Credit: Mathew Murphy 2024

The Outsiders’ plot of gang rivalry is certainly not original. West Side Story had the poor Puerto Rican Sharks and the poor white Jets. The Outsiders has the wealthy Socs (short for Socials) and the Greasers, who all come from the wrong side of the tracks. And if The Outsiders does not benefit from comparisons with West Side Story, it does have its own delights. 

Clay, Chance and Levine may not be Leonard Bernstein, but they do provide a very energetic, often pleasing folk and folk rock score. Choreographers Rick and Jeff Kuperman, with the help of lighting designer Brian MacDevitt, have created an impressive fight sequence in the second act. And the actors are so endearingly sincere we can almost forget their cloying, cliché-ridden dialogue.

Emma Pittman (Cherry Valance) & Brody Grant (Ponyboy Curtis) Credit: Mathew Murphy 2024

The story, set in Tulsa in 1967, is narrated by 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis (Brody Grant). Ponyboy lives with his brothers, Sodapop (Jason Schmidt) and Darrel (Brent Comer), who have been taking care of him since their parents died in a car accident. He is a Greaser, and his best friend is Johnny Cade (Sky Lakota-Lynch), whose family is particularly violent and troubled. Ponyboy is mentored by the much tougher Dallas Winston (Joshua Boone), who has recently spent time in the county prison.

Sky Lakota -Lynch (Johnny Cade) &  Joshua Boone (Dallas Winston). Credit Mathew Murphy  (2024)

The Greasers engage in frequent fights with the Socs, with the Greasers typically on the losing side. Then Ponyboy meets Cherry Valance (Emma Pittman), girlfriend of Bob, a bully and a Soc, and discovers they have a lot in common, mostly a charming sensitivity.

Tensions between the Socs and the Greasers are now ready to explode. The resulting rumble ends when  Johnny stabs Bob, who is about to drown Ponyboy in a fountain, and Dallas helps Johnny and Ponyboy run away. Even if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, you know this is not going to end well, and it doesn’t, unless you consider Ponyboy’s determination to become a writer a redeeming factor.

The Outsiders is clearly a teen tearjerker. What’s surprising is how many adults take out their hankies at the end of the show. With The NotebookHell’s Kitchen and The Outsiders all on Broadway this season, it seems producers are betting on the appeal of teenage angst. 

The Outsiders ***
Opened April 11 for an open run.
Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, 242 W. 45th St., NYC.
Running time: two hours and 20 mins. including intermission. telecharge.com.
Photography: Mathew Murphy  (2024)

Jason Schmidt (Sodapop Curtis) & Brody Grant (Ponyboy Curtis). Credit Mathew Murphy  (2024)